Sunday, August 31, 2008

Jesus and the Canaanite Woman part 3: Entitlement Christianity v. Great Faith

Sermon by the Rev. Matthew Kennedy
Text: Matthew 15:21-28

Listen to the audio here

Americans are given, by birth, privileges few elsewhere ever enjoy. America is a land of abundant wealth. It's very difficult to be truly poor here compared to poverty elsewhere. Sometimes, in a wealthy nation, people come to see the blessings they enjoy not as blessings but things to which they are entitled, things they have a right to demand, things that are owed to us.

We've tried to train Aedan to say “May I please have...” when he asks for something. He was very good at this during his third year but when he turned four things started to change. Every morning Aedan comes down and has milk. I have my coffee, he has his milk, we're set for the morning. He used to come down and say, “May I please have my milk”. When he turned four, just recently, it became, “Where is my milk?” That is entitlement thinking.

“I have a right to this thing,” whatever it is, “and somebody had better make sure I get it.”

This entitlement thinking, if allowed to shape our theology, leads to a terribly mistaken notion of who God is and who we are. This mentality often creeps in when Christians discuss the problem of suffering. “If God is good” the question is asked, “how can he permit this flood, or that illness, or this hurricane?” Some grow angry. Some even renounce any belief in God at all. “I can't believe in a God who would allow [this or that] to happen.”

The question of suffering is certainly difficult when considered apart from the biblical record and I don't mean to suggest otherwise, but the bible is not unclear about these things. Scripture teaches that when humanity turned from God, God let us go. Death, pain, sorrow, suffering, came into the world as a result. God did not turn from us, we turned from him. God does not owe us happiness, healing, forgiveness, or salvation. His offer of these things in Christ is an offer of infinite mercy. The Canaanite woman recognizes that.

The Canaanite woman is an antidote to entitlement Christianity.

Nevertheless, despite her humility, and we spoke about that last week, despite the reverent and respectful way she approaches Jesus, the first thing we'll notice this morning is Jesus' very uncomfortable silence. “He answered not a word” (23).

A second century Rabbi wrote that when Gentiles seek conversion, they must be met with silence until the third request in order to ensure sincerity. Jesus does seem to engage in some sort of testing.

The woman doesn't have have the bible but, if you remember from last week, she's heard the Word. She's heard that Jesus is a healer, king, and redeemer. Will the woman trust what she's heard and persevere in her requests or will Jesus' silence lead her to disregard the word she's heard and turn away.

How many here have prayed for something desperately without any response? When I consider my own experience with Jesus, his silence here fits the pattern. I want Jesus to act quickly. But he usually allows me to wait in painful circumstances until I'm at the point of being unable to cope before he brings deliverance.

And I've noticed, over time, that Jesus' silence has produce endurance and trust in his promises. “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-12) That is a promise. Romans 8:28 “In all things God works for the good of those who love him” That is a promise. And the longer I go in need, the more I've learned to cling to those promises and when God delivers, the promises are confirmed, my faith is strengthened, and I grow. That's the pattern and, from the biblical record, we can even say that that is a principle. God's silence increases our capacity to endure suffering faithfully by increasing our trust in his promises. God's silence is good because it produces perseverance.

This woman models this principle. With every request and every rebuff, she's driven back to the the word she's heard. She's forced to trust what she's heard about Jesus. And the word, you'll notice, helps her interpret her experience correctly. “He's silent but I know he's a healer. He seems to have said “no”, but I know he is a redeemer and healer.” So, on the basis of this word I'll press on to seek his mercy.

The disciples, however, are annoyed. “his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us."(v.23) I can think of three things that may irritate the disciples. First, Jesus is exhausted and the disciples probably want him to rest. Second. They're not happy about being where they are. It doesn't look good for the Messiah to hang out where all the Gentiles live. Finally, they're displeased that a woman has presumed to approach Jesus. She breaks all sorts of cultural and traditional boundaries. In Galilee it would be seen as brazen. So they want Jesus to send her away.

This is instructive for us as well. Some in the church have very odd conceptions of what the church is. They have this image a respectable place where respectable people go and do respectable things and when someone shows up who is not respectable in their eyes they want them to go away. Nobody says that out loud. It's communicated with a look, with a turned back, with a head shake, with a sigh...all of these say, “Lord send this person away” so that we can have a respectable fellowship of respectable people.

And it seems at first that Jesus gives in. He says(24): “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." His words are hard but true. His mission is to call Israel to repentance so that God might redeem the world through Israel in keeping with the promise he made to Abraham. He's is simply telling the truth. The time is not yet. The descendants of Abraham must have the first opportunity to fulfill their role.

The woman doesn't argue. She doesn't say, “No Jesus since Jews and Gentiles are equal and must be treated equally. You must help me in order to show your benevolent care for all humanity.” She recognizes that Jesus has the right to refuse her request. Instead of protesting, she prostrates, she kneels. The word in Greek, prosekune, shares the same root as the Greek word “worship” the woman knelt before him, she prosekune, she worshiped him. And she said, “Lord, help me.”

How do you respond when God does not do what you want him to do? Do you get angry? Do you lose heart? Do you seek help elsewhere? This gentile woman responds on her knees, humble trust, persistent prayer.

And yet again Jesus says no. "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs."(26) The word Jesus uses for dog is more like “pet dog,” not the more insulting equivalent to “cur” but, speaking personally, that doesn't help me much. But let's focus the point of the illustration. His point is not to identify Gentiles with dogs; his point is the very same point he made in verse 24; that he was sent to Israel first. Verse 26 is merely an illustration of the principle articulated in verse 24. We may not like the illustration he uses, but it makes the point. Offering the gentiles redemption and healing apart from Israel, before giving Israel the opportunity to do what they've been called to do, would be rob the descendants of Abraham of their promised role. It would be like giving dinner to the dogs before children have had a chance to eat. This is a simple fact not an insult. The point is not that Gentiles are pets. The point is: God made a promise to Abraham and God keeps his promises.

That may or may not make easier for you, I don't know, it helps me. What helps me more than that is to realize that I'm not a pet dog before God. I'm far lower on the chain. This woman may deserve to eat the crumbs off the table, but I'm not even worthy to do that. As David says about himself in Psalm 22, “I am a worm and no man.” If God incarnate chooses to compare me to a pet dog in relation to the Jews, who am I to complain? He's right. And yet, the wonder of it is that despite my sin and rebellion, despite all that I've done, when I repented of my sins and surrendered to Christ, he made me a son and an heir. Though I am a worm, for Jesus' sake I'm counted as a child of God. And the same, judging from her next answer, is true for this woman.

"Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." The woman doesn't reject Jesus' illustration. She doesn't argue with it. She's not insulted by it. She accepts it willingly. Yes Lord. It's not our time. And yet my need is desperate and though I'll not presume a place at the table, but I'll gladly take whatever falls to the ground.

In the modern context, her words and her actions would reflect a terrible lack of self esteem, Oprah might think she needs a life coach. Jesus doesn't. "Woman” he says, “you have great faith! Your request is granted." What about this woman's faith is great?

Notice that throughout this exchange there's no argument, no debate, no learned consideration. When Jesus speaks she accepts the truth of his word even when it's an uncomfortable truth. Many who call themselves Christian read their bibles as if they're in the position of Lord and the bible is in the dock. “I like the Gospels but not Paul. I like the NT God not the Old Testament God. My God would do this but not that.” I hope, if nothing else, we can learn from this woman that great faith, from first to last, requires humble trust in God's word. It is because this woman trusted Jesus' verdict that she humbled herself before him and as a result received his mercy. And it was her trust in the word she heard about Jesus, that he heals and redeems, that gave her confidence to seek his mercy and continue to seek it while accepting his verdict. The whole account is shot through with this woman's total reliance upon and trust in what Jesus says and the word she has heard about him.

That is the model of faith: trust in what God says. God says we are all sinners. But God promises mercy and grace and salvation to those who repent and seek him. God says that we are unrighteous. But he promises to give his Son's righteousness as a covering and to make those who turn to him in faith righteous in his sight. God says that in our own power we are weak and can do nothing. But he promises to give strength, nourishment, healing, and wholeness to those who seek it. God says we are destined to die. But in Christ he promises eternal life for all who seek him. God says we're but dust and to dust we shall return, but he promises to make those who repent and believe sons and daughters and to set them a place at his table where they will feast with him forever.

All of these hard and uncomfortable truths are declared and all of these wonderful promises are revealed in his word.

And, like the Canaanite woman, it is humble trust in the truths we have heard and the promises we have read that can and will in the end make us men and women of great faith.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Study this chart for Adult Christian Ed. tomorrow

Tomorrow we'll try to chart in a very broad and general way the development of Protestantism after the Reformation.

In addition to the chart above, I encourage you to read this article. It's from wikipedia which means that anyone can edit it in any way so there are some inaccuracies...but it is basically a good overview.

See you at church

Friday, August 29, 2008

Website information and an article on Jesus

Dear Good Shepherd,

We've just rolled out the new website. There is still a lot of work to do, but it looks good enough to open to the public. From now on Weekly Update will be posted there. Articles etc, will still be posted here on the Good Shepherd Blog.

To bookmark this page simply enter the address below in your browser bookmarks:

To read the Update, you can find it on the new website which you can get to using the same website address you have been using for the last three years.

When you get there you will see a list of pages on the left hand side of your screen. Click on the link titled: "Weekly Updates". This week's update is posted first. To read the whole thing simply click on "more"

Here is this weeks article. It is a reprint of an old one since I've been too stacked with work to write a new one:

Who is the Son?: Part 2 of a series of essays on the Articles of Religion
by the Rev. Matt Kennedy

Article II: Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man
The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man; who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile His Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men.
The second article has to do with the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Article begins with the usually insignificant word “the.” But, in this case the “the” is a vital one. Christ is not “a” son of the Father. He is not simply one more created being within the realm of created beings. He is unique and singular. He is “the” Son of the Father and to the extent that any one of us may be regarded as children, sons and daughters of God, it is in and through him alone. I am “a” son of God but not by natural birth or by right but by gracious adoption in and through “the” Son Jesus Christ.

It is one of the more difficult truths of the scriptures that human beings are not children of God by virtue of birth. We are certainly all his “creatures,” created in his image and likeness. But we are not, by nature, members of the Father's household. Humanity has collectively and individually rejected the Father. We have taken our inheritance and spent it on wild living. We are born in and, by nature, choose to remain in the pigsty.

As Paul says in Romans 3:10-18:
“None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Many read this and react defensively or dismissively. “This doesn't apply to me!” they might say. And yet, God has rendered his perfect judgment:
“For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:22-23
Who are we to argue? This is why Paul writes:
“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (3:19-20)
And yet despite our guilt and rebellion, the Father's offer of sonship/daughterhood remains open and free for all who are willing to repent, receive, and surrender to “the” Son, Jesus Christ. You may, in other words, become “a” son through faith in “the” Son. As John puts it:
"But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”(John 1:12-13)
Our adoption into the household of God is, then, through the one and only Son of the Father, the only rightful heir and Lord, Jesus Christ.

The Son is described in the second article as “the Word of the Father.” The Son is the “Word.”

The word “Word” comes from the Greek term “Logos.” Logos, in Greek thought, refers not simply to the spoken word but to the ordering or organizing framework of all that is. The Logos is the founding principle of the universal order.

Within a Christian context, the Word, the Logos, takes on both a personal and a divine sense. Indeed, John tells us that the Word is not just a “thing” or a “principle” for framing the created order. The Word is God himself.
1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)
The Word of the Father then is not an “it” but a “who.” God made all things through his Son who is the Divine and Personal Word. Creation was the work of God alone, but it was a shared work. God the Father determined to create through God the Son. In Genesis 1:26 God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." The "us" points both to the plurality or trinity of Persons in the Godhead and the cooperative work of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in creation.

It is important, before moving on to discuss the word "begotten", to make a distinction between “being” and “role.” When the Father sends his Son or when the Son and the Father together send the Spirit we, as creatures, as those who receive these gracious gifts, often make analogies to describe the inter-Personal relationships revealed in these acts. These analogies, though they generally reflect human relationships, are quite often true and founded scripturally. The Father “sends” the Son. The Son is “obedient” to the Father. These are not simply a figures of speech. They are biblically true.

The human Jesus, God the Son, did what Adam failed to do. He was perfectly obedient to the Father. But obedience was not and is not simply a function of Christ's humanity. God the Son, prior to the incarnation, willingly and lovingly submitted submited to the will of Father. The Son has always been his Father's Son and his obedient Servant. There has never been a time when this was not true.

But while affirming that truth, we cannot lose sight of the substantial equality of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is a distinction in the roles the Persons take in creation, redemption, and glorification, but there is no difference in their essence or being. The Persons are of One Substance.

Humans sometimes use terms like “obedience” in ways that point to a basic inequality of being. An obedient dog for example is obviously not equal in being to his master.

But an obedient child (or a disobedient one) is as substantially human as his parent. There is a distinction in role and a real hierarchy or order, but there is not a distinction in being. Both parent and child are fully human. This distinction between being and role also lies behind the biblical distinction between those in authority and those under authority. In Romans 13 Paul commands all believers to submit to the “governing” authorities.” This submission does not imply a superiority of being. Those in authority are not higher beings than those who are not in authority. Rather, they stand in and fulfill an authoritative role.

Though I already had a college degree, I experienced basic training as an enlisted man. My drill sergeant did not have a high-school diploma. He received a GED.

My educational status and, most likely, socio-economic status, were far higher than his. And yet his military rank was such that when he ordered me to spend a full day on my knees turning the pebbles on a pebble-parking lot from one side to the other so that “they could get some sun,” I did what he said. It was good for me.

In one context my status was higher than his and yet in another, his role was much more powerful than mine. But in both contexts we remained “co-equal” in our humanity. The onlydifference between us was the difference in our roles.

I labor this point because it is a crucial one when considering the relationships within the Godhead between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The Son is the Word “of” the Father. He is, the second article goes on to say “begotten” of the Father. But this language, language of “generation” and “sending,” does not in any way suggest an inequality of being between the Father and the Son. The word “begotten” is an old word that was once commonly used to refer to the relationship between a human father and his children. A mother “bears” her children. A father “begets” them. The children are, in biblical terms, his “seed”.

It is in something akin to but not altogether like this sense that the scriptures speak of the Son as the only “begotten” Son of the Father. When applied to the Son of God, the word “begotten” does not refer to temporal “origin.” The Father did not “create” the Son. The Son, in his divine nature, is not the “seed” of the Father. The Son has been the only begotten Son from “everlasting” as the Article goes on to say. Rather, “begotten” refers both to the likeness or sameness of being between Father and Son in the same way that it refers to the sameness of “seed” between human fathers and sons and it refers to the eternal, loving, willful, “submission” of the Son to the Father not in being but in role and purpose.

We might also say that, in his human nature, Jesus was indeed “begotten” of the Father in the sense that Jesus' mother Mary conceived through the power of God without a human father. But this human reference does not fully capture the “everlasting” begotteness of the Son to which the second article refers. The statement that “the Son is begotten of the Father from everlasting” points to the inter-Personal relationship between Father and Son within the Godhead. The Son, to use creedal language, is eternally begotten of the Father. He is eternally of one being with the Father and eternally obedient to him with regard to role.

This relationship is poignantly seen in Jesus' prayer on the night before his death. Jesus prays to the Father:
“I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” (John 17:4-5)
The loving, glorifying, obedience of the Son and the everlasting equality of his being with the Father are both manifest in this text.

The second article goes on to explicitly affirm the divine nature of the Son. He is the Word of the Father, eternally begotten. He is “the very and eternal God”. To say that the Son is “very” God is not to say that he is “quite” God or “very much” like God. It is rather to say that he is the one and only or the “true” God. He is the “very” God revealed in the scriptures, “of one substance with the Father.”

We have covered most of this in what has been said above with regard to the equality of being between the Father and the Son but one final thing must be noted before going on. The word “substance” here is simply another way of saying “being” or “essence.” It does not mean “material.” God is spirit, not matter. He took on a body in Jesus Christ. But he took on physicality without altering or transforming his substance.

The Son, in other words, was not “transformed” into a human being. He took on full humanity without losing or changing the nature of his divinity. The One man, Jesus of Nazareth, then, has two fully intact perfect natures: human and divine. In the words of the second Article, the Son:
“took Man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided,”
The Son's humanity was taken from his mother Mary. The man, Jesus of Nazareth, was conceived, through the power of the Holy Spirit, in Mary's womb and of Mary's flesh. He shared her genes. He may have looked like her, smiled like her, shared her eye-color, skin color, and hair color. He was God the Son and he was the son of Mary.

We need to be careful here to recognize what Jesus was not. He was not a ghost or an apparition He had a real body. Nor was he a “flesh puppet”. He was not an empty covering of flesh fit over a divine being. Nor, finally, was Jesus a “demi-god” or, as one of our parishioners once said, a “were-God”…by which I beleive he meant something like a werewolf. Jesus was not half man-half God. Jesus was fully God, co-equal, co-eternal, and of one being or "substance" with the Father. And he was a full man with a body, soul, spirit, will and emotions.

But, having said that, the article goes on to affirm that the humanity of Jesus is not wholly like our humanity. Jesus' human nature was “perfect” whereas ours is imperfect. The book of Hebrews reveals that Jesus was like us in every way yet without Sin.
"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." Hebrews 4:15
Jesus lived his entire life without committing a single sin. But not only did he live without committng sin, Jesus, while sharing our humanity, did not share in our sin nature, our orientation toward sin. Jesus' humanity was like Adam's humanity before Adam sinned. Adam was created in the image of God. When he sinned, that image was twisted and marred. It remains so in us. Humans were created with an “orientation” toward God and away from ourselves. But when sin entered the world, that orientation was twisted. Now all human beings are born with an orientation away from God and toward the self.
As David laments, “I was a sinner from the moment my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5)
David does not mean that he was doing bad or evil things inside his mother's womb. He does mean that from the very beginning of life the inclination or impulse or orientation of every human heart, mind, and soul, is toward evil. We are concieved as rebels.

As Paul writes to the Ephesians:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” (Ephesians 2:1-5)
But Jesus was not “by nature [a child] of wrath.” He was wholly undefiled from conception to death and remains so today in his resurrected body.

The sinlessness of Christ is not just another ethereal theological proposition. It is part and parcel of his saving work. God the Son became man not only to die as our substitute, but also to live as our representative. He lived the faithful life Adam failed to live. He fulfilled the call and mission Israel refused to fulfill. He daily trod the obedient path in thought, word, and deed that you and I fail to tread.

When new believers hear of Christ's sinlessness, they often shrug and say to themselves, “Of course he could do all of this. Jesus is God after all.” This response utterly misses the point. First, Christ, the man, by his perfect faithfulness undid or reversed Adam's faithlessness so that while we are all by nature born under the curse of Adam and follow in his footsteps, we are by grace through faith reborn under the faithfulness or righteousness of Christ.
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:12-19)
The sinlessness of Christ, the righteousness of Christ, is imputed or credited to all who believe by the grace of God through the instrument of faith. The perfect obedience of Jesus, then, counts before the throne of God as your perfect obedience. God in Jesus not only died in your place. He lived in your place as well. We mustn't forget that.

The second article goes on to affirm the scriptural record of Christ's suffering, death and burial.

Jesus, “truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried.” He did not swoon or pass out or fall asleep. He suffered in the body. He was hung on a cross. He truly died and was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. These are vital affirmations in the face of so many contemporary attempts to explain away the resurrection appearances of Christ by denying his death. The Son truly died. He bore the full weight and penalty of sin in his suffering and death and in so doing “reconciled his Father to us.”

The scriptural formulation reverses the one found in the Article. We, says Paul, are reconciled to the Father not the Father to us. But the present formulation is also true. As Paul observes in Romans 1:18, God's wrath at sin is a present reality. God is holy and just. He will punish sin and sinners to the full extent of the law. The debt that we owe him for the least of our sins is beyond our ability to pay.

We cannot make up for the evil that we have done by doing good. Good deeds do not erase bad ones anymore than not robbing a bank in the future can make up for robbing one in the present. Nor can we expect that our perfectly just God will simply forgive us our sins any more than we would expect the same of an imperfectly just human judge. God is eternally at enmity with sin and sinners are eternally in his debt and subject to his punishment.

But God himself acted in Christ, on our behalf, to put an end to this enmity by bearing in himself the full measure of the Father's just and holy wrath at our sin. God exhausted his eternal wrath on himself in Jesus Christ. The penalty we could not pay because we are finite, God in Jesus Christ paid because he is infinite. And once the just wrath of God was exhausted on God in Christ, God the Father was “reconciled” through the Son to all those who bend the knee and surrender to Christ. There is, therefore, no condemnation for those who are found in Christ, because Christ was condemned on our behalf.

God in Christ became the one and final “sacrifice” of atonement to which the Old Testament law and prophets point. His death effected our salvation by dealing with both the offense of our “actual sins,” the sins we commit in thought word and dead, and with the “original guilt” that we inherited from Adam, the guilt that made us, as Paul wrote above, “children of wrath.”

We are then, in Christ, no longer children of wrath, but by grace through faith, we have have been made sons and daughters of the Father.

The second article is a glorious one because it deals with our Lord's identity and, secondly, his saving work. When we read of Christ and his natures, his life and his passion, his death and burial, it ought to evoke both awe and humility: awe at the beauty and wonder of God and humility that he would stoop to take on human nature and die for the sake of those who so willingly and eagerly reject him.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Thursday Notes

Dear Good Shepherd,

I hope that you are all doing well this morning. This week's Thursday notes will be a bit short because all day I have been working on the new website and I hope to post tomorrow's update on it and then roll it out. Lot's of information is already stored but there is still much to do including working on the look of the site.

I would like to direct you to the sermon's section of the new website. It is a lot easier to listen to podcasts from the new site. Here is the sermon's page. To listen to sermons you need to click on the prhase"go to the sermon" that you will see when you follow the link below:

When you click on "go to the sermon" it will take you to a page that has the text of the sermon and an audio band. All you have to do is click on the "play" button" (the arrow pointing right). Here is last weeks:

And, I suppose, from the link above you can probably surf around on the new site a bit. I do want to say that the site is not finished so it does not look like it will look tomorrow and there is still alot of content that needs to be uploaded. AND very important, the site address that I have pasted above WILL change. It will be the VERY same website address we've always had so don't bookmark the link above.

Also, if you have pictures that you think would be good to post, please send them along. It is so much easier to put photographs up on this new site than the old one. So please let me know.

For Wardens and Vestry, please do send me any photo's you have that are already on your computer and you don't mind posting online. Just attach them to an email. The only vestry person I have so far is John Chaney, but he may not like the picture much.

Okay, now for this week's brief notes:

1. Thursday Night bible study is on for tonight at 6:30pm, we'll be moving into Matthew 19

2. Joe is scheduled to cook for the Men's Breakfast & Bible Study at 6:30am Friday. This is a good time to start if you've never come before because we'll be turning from 3rd John to the book of Jude. It's always nice to join a bible study at the beginning of a book.

3. The women's bible study meets Saturday at 10:00am. They are currently in the book of Hosea and will be moving through all the minor prophets.

Shepherd's Bowl (our soup kitchen) starts tonight at the regular time and I know they can always use help.

Be sure to scroll down on this site for any news you might have missed.

In Christ, Matt

Alistair Begg: The Evanglical Crisis

I'm posting part 2 first because I think it is especially relevant and convicting not only for "evangelicals" in general but for Anglicans too. We (not Good Shepherd specifically, but Anglicans in general) are rather easily sucked into some of the pitfalls Alistair Begg describes:

Listen to Part 2 here
Here's the description:
Is your church part of the evangelical crisis? We’ve heard some challenging observations on what many people are willing to do in the name of ministry. On today’s broadcast, we’ll round out the list. Is there any hope? Hear the answer on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.

Listen to Part 1 here
Here's the description:
Does it really matter what kind of teaching comes out of the pulpit? It’s more important than you may think. Hear about the evangelical crisis on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Notes about the New Website

Very soon, hopefully by the end of the week, we'll be rolling out the new Good Shepherd website. There will be many new features including on-site audio and video podcasting, easier access to schedules and event notices, faster loading times, simple picture uploads, daily bible readings and lots more.

But this site will not close down. The blog platform is great for discussion and feedback so I'll continue to post here daily. The Weekly Updates and schedules will be moved to the main website but I will link articles, news items, and sermons here for discussion.

I am working on the website for most of today on transferring material to the new site. I'll let you know when things are ready.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

First Light Bible Study...reminder

If you are coming to First Light Bible Study tonight (see the left-side bar for times), be sure to review 1st Peter 3, especially verses 18-22. I posted a brief reading note about this text last week. To read it click here.

See you tonight.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Today's sermon and class

Both this morning's sermon and Christian Education class are now available on the podcast site. Some parishioners less familiar with computers have asked for instructions for accessing the audio from the podsite. The easiest way to listen to a sermon or class is to follow one of the links below by moving your cursor over the highlighted text and left-clicking.

When you come to the next page scroll down until you find the desired sermon or class, move your cursor over the "play" button or the "download" button and left-click. If you choose "download", you will actually receive the audio file and you may then need to click on it in order to listen. But if you choose "play" it will be less complicated. You can listen right away. Let me know if you have any trouble. Here are the links:

Click here for this morning's sermon
Here is the description:
Jesus and the Canaanite Woman Part 2: Mercy not Justice
Text: Matthew 15:21-28 When considering the problem of suffering, many, even in the Church, accuse God of injustice. How can a good God allow so much pain and turmoil. The Canaanite woman is different. She does not seek justice from Jesus. She seeks mercy.

Click here for this morning's class.
Here is the description:
Worship and the Anglican Prayerbook
The first part of this audio skips a bit, but hang in there it gets better. This discussion covers the shape of Anglican worship and includes an extended conversation comparing written liturgical worship to non-liturgical worship.
Have a great Sabbath. I'll post the sermon text tomorrow...I've got to correct some of the spelling a grammar.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

For Tomorrow: Anglican Worship and the Prayerbook

Adult Christian Education between services starting at 9:15am in the parish hall: We'll finish our brief focus on Anglicanism tomorrow morning and move more broadly to an overview of the development of Protestant denominations following the Reformation. Next Sunday we'll continue on that course but talk also about how ecumenical relationships between Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches developed and trace that development to the present.

For tomorrow, please read this brief article on the prayerbook and Cranmer's vision for Reformed Catholic worship. Here is an excerpt:
...Archbishop Cranmer was well versed in the progress of church reform on the continent. Throughout the 1520s and early 1530s he had traveled Europe in the service of Henry VIII. He came into contact with the teachings of the reformers, Luther and Calvin among them, and learned the politics of reform. In time, Cranmer was instrumental in bringing Lutheran, Calvinist, and Zwinglian scholars to university posts in England. The orders of worship, the postures and language of prayers, and the understanding of the sacraments contained within the 1549 prayer book reflect a complex synthesis of Reformed and Catholic theology and practice.

While much could be said about the structure, style, and influence of the Book of Common Prayer, perhaps most important for Christians in the Reformed tradition is the language of its prayers and the centrality it gives to the Lord’s Supper. To some extent, the prayer book maintained aspects of Calvin’s heritage for his direct descendants until we were ready to receive them.

The Language of Prayer

In the sixteenth century, the language of worship was a central concern. Worship in the language of the people was not a new debate in the 1500s, nor was it the initial point of contention for many of the reformers. But the translation of worship from Latin into German, French, English, and many other local languages quickly followed initial theological disputes. Each reformer had his poet. Cranmer was no exception (although his may have been a committee!). In any event, from the first edition in 1549, a mark of the Book of Common Prayer has been the beauty of the text...

If you missed last week's class, you can listen to the recording on the podsite. See you tomorrow.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Good Shepherd Update Friday August 22nd, 2008

Dear Good Shepherd,

Good morning. As I mentioned in the Thursday Notes yesterday, we've refocused "Ingathering" Sunday, setting it apart and renaming it to provide an opportunity for new and existing members and guests to learn about all the things God is doing at Good Shepherd and to join in. Our faith commitment to serve Jesus Christ involves, necessarily, serving his body, the church...not just the “Church” in a general sense, but more specifically the local congregation. In fact, this service, this offering of ourselves to our brothers and sisters, is one of the means by which God sanctifies us and conforms us to his image. The following text is from Paul's letter to the Romans chapter 12. take the time to read it carefully:

12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (Romans 12:1-13)

Paul is not just writing in a general and broad sense when he speaks about the Body of Christ, but in a very narrow and defined sense about the call of believers to the specific congregations of which they are a member.

Where else do you learn not to “think more highly of yourself than you ought” than in an actual congregation full of actual people where you are in regular and consistent contact with brothers and sisters to whom you owe love, forgiveness, service, and respect irregardless of your feelings for them? You cannot learn that walking alone in the forest or by a babbling brook. You do not find that at home in bed watching a televised preacher. You only learn to do that in a specific local congregation where you are bound to others by the Holy Spirit and by the call of God in Jesus Christ.

And where else, in what other organization or group, are you an integral part, not just an employee or employer, not just a laborer or boss, but a member of a spiritual body with a vital function and role—a body in which you do not work for monetary reward or social status and appreciation but for love...and not the “feeling” either...but real love, the sort Jesus has for you, the sort that stretches out its arms and dies for the one who is loved?

In the church we do not work for any other reason than that Christ is working in us and has brought us, mercifully, out of the darkness in which we used to live into this new light that will last forever and, in the present, into his body, the church, where we are called to do for others what he has done for and “love one another with brotherly affection...” and “Outdo one another in showing honor.”

It is in that light that I want to mention two, well, frustrations, that presently exist in regard to various ministries at Good Shepherd.

First, sometimes people who have committed to do certain tasks have not followed through on their commitments. I am certainly not one to say that I always do what I say I am going to do. I make huge blunders and am often far less responsible than I need to be and am called to be. Nevertheless, at Good Shepherd things have come to the point where I think we need to take note of the problem.

When someone signs his or her name on a piece of paper and says that he will do something at a certain time, lots of other people depend on that commitment and when the commitment is not met others are forced to step in and take up the slack. Let me explain the way this has broken down at Good Shepherd. There are presently two or three people who end up doing all of the things that nine or ten people have signed up to do. And while those who signed up are off doing whatever it is they have chosen to do, the two or three take up the task and literally wear themselves out. One person, and I think many of you know her, misses worship entirely some Sundays because she is doing the work of five or six people.

This is not right or good and it is certainly not what Paul had in mind when he said to “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” It is dishonoring in fact.

I am fully aware that it is summer time and that many have gone on vacation and I am also aware that some may read this and say to themselves, “well I just won't sign up to do anything at all so that no one depends on me.” That is fine I suppose, but do not think that you help the two or three people who do everything by not signing your name for anything because, unfortunately, the various tasks still need doing and if no one else makes the necessary sacrifices and steps up out of love for Christ and his brothers and sisters to do them, then the tasks, as usual, will be done by the two or three.

And, what is more, not serving the body is to miss out on the grace of God that flows through self sacrifice in his church.

The best solution to the dilemma is to commit to serve and then follow through. That means checking the ministry schedule to see whether you are on duty for a task and then, if you are, doing it. And if you cannot make it one to worship one Sunday for a some unavoidable reason, please do find a replacement...preferably not one of the three who do everything.

What we experience is not unique. Every church I know of has this problem from time to time but in the process of being conformed to Christ we are called to mature and grow out of just this sort of thing so let's not be “slothful in zeal,” but “fervent in spirit, serve the Lord,” and love one another.

Second. There has been a good deal frustration expressed over the problem discussed in point one (above). So much that I've noticed a particular, well, resentment arising in some hearts. I understand this and certainly have felt frustrated myself at times, but since we do have a rather new congregation, a congregation made up of people who largely have not grown up in church, there needs to be a good deal of grace and patience. And, I should point out, we do not want to scapegoat any particular group when all of us have fallen short in so many ways.

Last night at the vestry meeting I was getting somewhat frustrated about the commitment problem but this morning the Lord reminded me (and I hate it when he does this) of the parable of the ungrateful servant (Matthew 18:21-35). Do you remember that one? It has to do with the man, a servant, who was forgiven an incredibly expensive debt, insurmountable in fact, that he owed to his King only to turn around and threaten his fellow servant who owed him a very piddling amount. Do you remember what Jesus said at the end of that parable? The long and short of it is that only the merciful will be shown mercy. Showing mercy and patience is one mark of the believer. If we have come to know in our bones the forgiveness of Christ to whom we owed an infinite and eternal debt, it will be very difficult for us not to forgive those who owe us very little.

Really, the problems I mentioned in point 1 above are very very small compared to the offense of our sins against the Lord and any patience and forgiveness we offer is nothing when compared to the sacrifice He made to atone for us. I think we are called to show this mercy to one another along with patience and loving-kindness even when, especially when, people forget or neglect to do what they have signed up to do.

In all, both point one and point two are very small things that I have no doubt the Lord will help us to overcome. I do ask, however, that as we prepare for the fall, that each of us will consider what Paul means when he says to “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” If someone is not serving, please find some way to contribute to the building up of the body and if someone feels resentment please ask the Lord to take that away so that we can welcome and enjoy one another.

I love you all very much and I know that the bonds and love we have in Christ are far stronger than any passing frustration. In so many ways Good Shepherd bears witness to the love and joy that only Christ can give. I pray that the Lord will continue to work in us and through us to deepen our bonds of fellowship and to bring those who do not know Christ to the knowledge and love of him.

Update Contents
Mission and Ministry Fair (AKA Ingathering Sunday)
Fruit Bowl
Rummage Sale/BBQ/Health Fair
Flower Fund
Cleaning Ministry
Parish Cleaning Day
Shepherd's Bowl volunteers
A Thank you and a Plea for Bulletin Help
Nursery ministers
Morning Prayer
Website Update
Women’s Saturday Bible Study
Office Hours
Good Shepherd T-Shirts
Alistair Begg on Marriage
Youth Update from Micah
Adult Education Series: Divisions in the Church
Sermons on the Podsite


note: some of this week's Update (Not All) is reprinted from the Thursday notes because the Update is sent to more people, many beyond our parish, who have asked to be if you've read an item of news already just pass it over and go to the next item

Mission and Ministry Sunday AKA “Ingathering Sunday” is Sunday September 7th. The service times will be the same as they usually are, 8:00am and 10:30am but instead of Christian education between services, there will be a missions fair. This is an opportunity for people to commit to one or more of the ministries of Good Shepherd. There are many many things you could do, too many to name or number here, but you will see them on the 7th and I'll send out a few notes before then as well.

Please pray about your ministry at Good Shepherd and ask God to show you where he would like you to use the gifts and time he has given you. There will be homemade sweet-roles and other pastries and, of course, coffee and tea.

If you are the leader of a ministry on Sunday you'll receive a blank white poster board so that you can create your ministry display. There are about 16 of you.

Fruit Bowl: On Mission/Ingathering Sunday (Sept. &) you are asked to bring some cut up fruit for the Good Shepherd Fruit Bowl. A light breakfast of fruit, rolls, muffins, juice, coffee and tea will be available between the two services. Come and enjoy leaning about the different Missions of Good Shepherd!

Rummage Sale, BBQ, and Health Fair September 27: Mark your calendar and begin putting clothes, household items, toys, etc. aside for the Rummage Sale. We respect the people who come to purchase these goods so please do not bring soiled or torn clothing or inferior merchandise. We want to be known for good quality at low prices. Also this year we will include a health/healing component which is still in the planning stages. And, of course, there will be Church of the Good Shepherd's famous Chicken Barbecue to provide physical sustenance. Pray for the success of this mission to a needy community.

Flower Fund (from Cookie Finch): Once again we are coming back together after a very full and busy summer to start our Fall flurry of activities. It is now time to remember our loved ones who have passed away as well as happy events such as Births, Baptisms, Weddings, Birthdays or Anniversaries. You can express your feelings by putting flowers on the altar to commemorate any event.

In the pew, you will find a form, which you can fill out and send to the Church. This is an easy way to remember our loved ones with flowers for the full year. You can specify the flowers for specific weeks and also for the Christmas and Easter holidays at one time. Of course, you can always put flowers on the altar at any time during the year as the need arises.

If you have any questions about the Flower Fund, please feel free to call me at any time. Cookie Finch 775-2250

Bookmarks Another photo shoot is scheduled for September 7th. It will take about a week to have the photos made into bookmarks. Please take advantage of this free gift and invite your friends to do so also. This will be a great opportunity to bring others to church.

Cleaning Ministry: Thank you very much to Tom Kavasny who has volunteered to fill one spot on a cleaning team. But it is a big job and he needs one more team member to help out. The commitment would be to clean the church building once a month. There are several cleaning teams that rotate each week. If you are willing to help please contact the church office at 723-8032 or speak to Cookie Finch.

Parish Cleaning Day: There will be a general cleaning/maintenance work day at the church on October 4th. You'll hear more about it in the future but please go ahead and mark your calendars today. We need all the help we can get.

The Shepherd's Bowl is our weekly soup kitchen. We feed a warm meal to about 40 hungry people every Thursday night. Currently there are about three to four teams serving on weekly rotations. But there are some holes in the teams as some team members have moved away and others have been unable to continue serving on Thursdays. If you are available, we'd really appreciate your help. The commitment would be once a month. We especially need people willing to stay and clean up afterwards. The Shepherd's bowl runs from 5:30pm to 6:30pm and if you stayed to clean you would most likely be home a little after 7:00pm.

Nursery ministers: Speaking of ministries, we are in dire need of nursery workers for the 10:30am service. If you are good with small children and are willing to commit to serve once about every three weeks, please contact Anne at 773-4810 or call the church office at 723-8032

A Thank you and a Plea for Bulletin Help: Thank you to Kellie French for her excellent work and sacrificial service this summer serving, as a volunteer, as parish secretary. Her work on the bulletin was superb and it was such a relief to know that she was there answering phones and holding down the fort while we were away.

Now that classes have begun at BU she has to go back to school. As many of you know we've decided to hire Micah as a youth minister and musician rather than hire a secretary. It has certainly paid off ministry wise and I think it was a wise and godly decision on the part of the vestry. But it does mean that for the time being we rely on volunteer secretary work and Anne's help with the bulletin. This year, however, Anne is homeschooling Emma and Aedan, taking care of Rowan and Gwendolyn, teaching two women's bible studies, leading choir practice during the week, teaching at a homeschooling group on Wednesdays, and being my wife (which is a full time job all by itself). She does not have the time to do the bulletins. If you have a day...Thursday or Friday...during the week to spare and are good with computers and formatting and copying, we cannot tell you how much we would appreciate your stepping forward to help with this ministry. Please let us know if you are able and willing. 773-4810

Morning Prayer: Every week from Tuesday to Friday, there is a morning prayer service in the sanctuary at Good Shepherd at 8:30am. One of the regulars reminded me that some of our newer parishioners may not be aware of that. Two passages of scripture are read every morning, one Old Testament and one New Testament, from a reading schedule that takes us through the entire bible in two years (the same one printed in your bulletin every Sunday morning). The worship follows the “Morning Prayer Rite II” form in the prayer book beginning on page 78. After the readings there is a brief but often in-depth discussion of and conversation about the scriptures. It is a great way to start the day. One important part of the Anglican vision is that a Christian body, a congregation, is formed and shaped through prayer and the “daily” corporate reading and exposition of the bible. Morning prayer provides one means toward that end. All are invited to come, the more the better.

Website News: The new website will be ready by next week. It is newer and capable of doing a lot more than our old one including the capacity to store audio and video. We'll certainly be taking advantage of that. As for the temporary blog/website we've been using, we will keep it going even after the new one is complete. The blog format is a good one for getting daily bits of news out quickly, prayer requests, sermons, reflections and for hosting discussions and questions and articles. So please continue to check it daily. Be sure to scroll down on this site for news you may have missed.

Women’s Saturday Bible Study: The women's bible study started back up last Saturday and continues this Saturday at 10:00am. They will be working through the 12 minor prophets. If you do not know who the 12 minor prophets are, just open the Old Testament book and find the book of Daniel. The books of the minor prophets start where Daniel ends. Hosea is the first and the book of the prophet Malachi is the last. Malachi is the last Old Testament book before the New Testament Gospels begin with the Gospel of Matthew. The minor prophets are called “minor” not because they are unimportant, but because their books are a lot shorter than the “major” prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. It sounds like a fascinating study that, because I am a male, I will miss, but if you are not a man, you don't have to share my fate. The study meets in the parish hall every Saturday at 10:00am.

Office Hours: Just a reminder that anyone is welcome to come in and talk during my office hours (Tuesday-Thursday 9:00am-1:00pm) without an appointment. If you can't make those hours you are more than welcome to call the office and make an appointment.

Good Shepherd T-Shirts: To show our love for Good Shepherd and to make a unified identity when we are hosting activities, we are ordering shirts with a small emblem on the left chest area. These will be gray with maroon lettering or maroon with gray lettering. Order forms and pictures of styles and the emblem will be in church. A voluntary offering of $6-$10 is suggested, but any amount will be appreciated. Whatever money is given will be contributed to a worthy charity.

Alister Begg on Marriage: Alister Begg is currently replaying his “best of” sermons online. I posted one a couple of days ago on the blogsite having to do with the necessity of faith. Here is another entitled “How to Avoid Marital Failure”. Pastor Begg gives 16 principles (in two sermons) that will serve to strengthen your marriage. They're very good and if you are married, about to be married, thinking about marriage sometime in the future or know someone who is to be married, then please take the time to listen.

Youth Update from Micah: It's time to get back into the swing of youth group! Summer vacations are (mostly) over, and the school year is beginning soon (groan, i know). Senior High youth group will continue to meet at its regular time on Sundays, 6-8. Junior High will continue to meet on Mondays, 6-8 for the time being, unless a better night is agreed upon. Parents (especially Junior High parents), please remember your commitment to the youth group and don't let your kids plan other regular evens on the night of youth group. It's important to remember if the youth group is going to grow, everyone must be committed! I will be handing out a monthly schedule again once the school year starts. Also, during the week, Tuesday through Thursday, I will be in New York City again. Friday through Monday I will be in Binghamton. If you need to, you can always reach me by my cell phone: 607-621-2876 or email:

Adult Christian Education Series: Divisions in the Church: This Sunday we'll finish our discussion of Anglicanism with a look at a few more articles and then a brief discussion of the prayerbook and its role in defining Anglican doctrine and practice. Next Sunday we'll move on to discuss the development of the three major streams of Christianity after the Reformation: Catholicism, Protestantism and Orthodoxy. In what ways have they changed since the 16th century, in what ways have they remained the same. What are the divisions within each stream and what are the chances of visible unity both within each and between them?

If you missed last week's class, you can listen to it here.

Sermon Podcasts: My sermon from last week has been posted on the sermon podcast site. It is also available by text here. It is the first part of a two part series on Jesus' encounter with the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28. It is really a good idea to listen to the first part in order to gain a better understanding of the heart of the text...which we'll discuss this Sunday.

Good News for the Week:
“Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. 2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. 3 Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” (Hosea 6:1-3)

Don’t forget to Bring a Friend to Church

Thursday Notes

Good Morning, just a few notes this Thursday. Read carefully and be sure to scroll down to see other posts you may have missed this week:

Mission and Ministry Sunday AKA “Ingathering Sunday” is coming up very soon, Sunday September 7th. We changed the name because to have a Sunday designated as a time of “Ingathering” implies that its a normal and good thing to have a period of “outgoing” or to “take the Summer off” from church...which we all know is not true : - ). Worship for the believer is like breathing, you can't live without it....In any case, the service times will be the same as they usually are, 8:00am and 10:30am but instead of Christian education between services, there will be a missions fair. This is an opportunity for people to commit to one or more of the ministries of Good Shepherd. There are many many things you could do, too many to name or number here, but you will see them on the 7th and I'll send out a few notes before then as well.

Please pray about your ministry at Good Shepherd and ask God to show you where he would like you to use the gifts and time he has given you. There will be homemade sweet-roles and other pastries and, of course, coffee and tea.

If you are the leader of a ministry on Sunday you'll receive a blank white poster board so that you can create your ministry display. There are about 16 of you.

Flower Fund (from Cookie Finch): Once again we are coming back together after a very full and busy summer to start our Fall flurry of activities. It is now time to remember our loved ones who have passed away as well as happy events such as Births, Baptisms, Weddings, Birthdays or Anniversaries. You can express your feelings by putting flowers on the altar to commemorate any event.

In the pew, you will find a form, which you can fill out and send to the Church. This is an easy way to remember our loved ones with flowers for the full year. You can specify the flowers for specific weeks and also for the Christmas and Easter holidays at one time. Of course, you can always put flowers on the altar at any time during the year as the need arises.

If you have any questions about the Flower Fund, please feel free to call me at any time. Cookie Finch 775-2250

Please be sure to check the ministry schedule to see if you are scheduled to serve. If for some unavoidable reason you cannot make it, please be sure to find a replacement. Thanks.

Website News: The new website will be ready by next week. It is newer and capable of doing a lot more than our old one including the capacity to store audio and video. We'll certainly be taking advantage of that. As for the temporary blog/website we've been using, we will keep it going even after the new one is complete. The blog format is a good one for getting daily bits of news out quickly, prayer requests, sermons, reflections and for hosting discussions and questions and articles. So please continue to check it daily. Be sure to scroll down on this site for news you may have missed.

Morning Prayer: Every week from Tuesday to Friday, there is a morning prayer service in the sanctuary at Good Shepherd at 8:30am. One of the people who regularly attend reminded me that some of our newer parishioners may not be aware of that. Two passages of scripture are read every morning, one Old Testament and one New Testament, from a reading schedule that takes us through the entire bible in two years. The worship follows the “Morning Prayer Rite II” form in the prayer book beginning on page 78. After the readings there is a brief but often in-depth discussion/conversation about the scriptures. It is a great way to start the day. One important part of the Anglican vision is that a Christian body, a congregation, is formed and shaped through prayer and the daily corporate reading and exposition of the bible. Morning prayer provides one means toward that end. All are invited to come, the more the better.

Men's Breakfast and Bible Study: Lee Bronson is cooking tomorrow morning. We studied 2nd John last Friday and this Friday we'll review that and pass on to 3rd John. If you've never studied these short books you're missing out. Lots of the big eaters are still out on vacation which means more food for those who come. The breakfast/bible study starts at 6:30am in the parish hall every Friday. See you there

Women's Bible Study (Saturday): The women's bible study started back up last Saturday and continues this Saturday at 10:00am. They will be working through the 12 minor prophets. If you do not know who the 12 minor prophets are, just open your bible to the Old Testament. The minor prophets start after the book of Daniel with the prophet Hosea and end with the prophet Malachi, the last book before the New Testament. They are called “minor” not because they are unimportant, but because their books are a lot shorter than the “major” prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. It sounds like a fascinating study that, because I am a male, I will miss, but if you are not a man, you don't have to share my fate. The study meets in the parish hall every Saturday at 10:00am

Alister Begg on the necessity of faith

This talk by Alister Begg is a fine discussion of the necessity of faith in Christ and what life is like without Him.

Listen to it here: Christian Faith - What is It, Who Needs It?, Part A Hebrews 11:1-6

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Great News from Virginia

The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia supported by the Episcopal Church sued 11 Anglican parishes last year in an attempt to confiscate their property. The most recent rulings (linked here) indicate that the parishes have all but succeeded in defending themselves. It may be that the diocese and the national church appeal to federal court but they have lost at the state level. This victory probably does not carry much precedent for New York state but it is good news for Anglicans in Virginia.

Here is an excerpt from the press release from the Anglican District of Virginia website:
FAIRFAX, Va. (August 19, 2008) – The 11 Virginia Anglican congregations sued
by The Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Diocese of Virginia responded to the
Fairfax County Circuit Court ruling issued today concerning the Contracts
Clause and the assertion by TEC and the Diocese that the 11 Anglican
congregations waived their right to invoke the Virginia Division Statute.

Judge Randy Bellows ruled that TEC and the Diocese failed to timely assert
their claim that the 11 Anglican congregations contracted around or waived
their right to invoke the Division Statute. In addition, the judged ruled
that the Division Statute does not violate the contracts clause provisions
of the U.S. and Virginia Constitutions as applied to these properties. The
rulings can be found at Today’s rulings
mean that there are only a small number of issues remaining to be decided at
the October trial, and the 11 Anglican congregations are hopeful that they
can be resolved quickly.

“We are pleased that Judge Bellows ruled in our favor on these questions.
He ruled very clearly that our congregations are able to rely on the
Virginia Division Statute in order to keep our church property. We have
maintained all along that our churches’ own trustees hold title for the
benefit of their congregations. TEC and the Diocese have never owned any of
the properties and their names do not appear on deeds to the property. The
Virginia Supreme Court has consistently stated that Virginia does not
recognize denominational trusts of the sort asserted by TEC and the
Diocese,” said Jim Oakes, vice-chairman of the Anglican District of
Virginia. All 11 churches are members of ADV.

“Given today’s ruling, we hope and pray that TEC and the Diocese would put
away this needless litigation. We have consistently remained open to
exploring avenues for amicable discussions, and have been grieved that TEC
has chosen to continue to pursue a path of confrontation rather than civil
dialogue. This litigation has done nothing to spread the Good News of Jesus
Christ,” Oakes continued...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

First Light Bible Study notes

The First Light Bible Study started to dig into 1st Peter 3:18-21 this evening. This is one of the more notoriously difficult passages in the New Testament. Here's the text as translated in the NIV:

"18For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,"

Here is the same text in the ESV (English Standard Version):

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
I've bolded one of the more important differences between the two translations. Notice that the translators of the NIV understood the Greek word "pneumati" (or spirit) in verse 18 as a reference to the Holy Spirit while the translators of the ESV understood the same word as referring not to the Holy Spirit but to the living spirit or soul of Jesus.

Both translations have merit but both lead to very different interpretations. Peter may be referring to what Jesus did in his spirit between Good Friday and Easter Sunday while his body lay in the tomb or he is referring, more generally, to the activity of the Holy Spirit who raised Christ from the dead and through whom Christ proclaimed the gospel in the days before the flood.

If the NIV translation is more accurate then Peter is comforting his readers with the fact that the sufferings they endure as they proclaim the gospel of Christ through the Holy Spirit to an overwhelmingly wicked generation are not unlike those faced by Noah and his sons who proclaimed the same gospel through the same Spirit and they(his believing are saved figuratively through the waters of baptism just as Noah and his family were saved through the deluge.

If the ESV translation is closest to Peter's intent then the apostle points his readers to the vindication that is theirs despite their present sufferings. Christ, in his spirit (after the death of his body but before his Resurrection), proclaimed victory to those disobedient departed spirits in hell (or alternatively "fallen angels") who disobeyed long ago, vindicating the faith of the Old Testament Saints and, at the same time, validating the faith of those who trust and suffer for Christ, a validation made manifest at his Resurrection.

I tend to favor the NIV translation but I could be wrong. For next week, think it through, read some commentaries, come ready to discuss. Here is a good, basic, over-view of the various lines of interpretation from Dr. Robert Deffinbaugh:

The major thrust of Peter’s teaching can be traced in verses 17-18 and verse 22. The problems arise in verses 19-21. The following views sum up the more popular interpretations of this problem passage.

(1) Christ preached through Noah to the people of his day. This view was held by Augustine. Christ has always been actively involved in the world, even from ancient times (see Colossians 1:16-17; 1 Corinthians 10:4). He is also vitally involved with the world and His church until He comes again (Matthew 28:20; Acts 9:1-9; 16:7). This view’s main problem is the expression “spirits now130 in prison” which does not seem to be one that most naturally would be used and understood in reference to men. It is true, however, that “spirits” is used in Hebrews 12:23 in reference to those believers who have died.

(2) Between the time of our Lord’s death and His resurrection, He descended into the abode of the dead and preached to those who had formerly lived in Noah’s day but were now dead and in prison, spiritually.131 Matthew 27:52-53 and Ephesians 4:9 are sometimes cited as support. There are several problems with this view. First, why is only this group of unbelieving dead selected and preached to and not all unbelievers? Second, why would the gospel be preached to a group of people who were warned of the coming judgment of God for 120 years and who rejected this warning (see Hebrews 11:7; 2 Peter 2:4-5)? It wasn’t as though these people were not warned. Peter tells us they were disobedient (3:20). Third, at least some of those who hold this view also believe these folks are given a “second chance,” but this seems contrary to other biblical teaching (see, for example, Hebrews 9:27).

(3) Between Christ’s death and resurrection, Christ descended into hell and proclaimed His victory to the demonic spirits, who cohabited with women in Noah’s day (see Genesis 6:1-8; 2 Peter 2:4-5, Jude 6; see also 1 Corinthians 15:28; Ephesians 1:18-23; Philippians 2:8-11; Colossians 2:8-15; 1 Peter 4:22). This view seems to square best with Genesis chapter 6, 2 Peter 2 and Jude 6. It appears most consistent with the terms “spirits in prison.” But what does this have to do with Peter’s theme of suffering?

(4) Enoch (not Christ) preached to those living in Noah’s day. This is the view of J. Cramer and J. Rendel Harris. It has no textual support, but only a textual emendation (a change of the text, without the existence of any such text) based upon certain presuppositions. It can hardly be taken seriously.

(5) “I don’t know what Peter means here.” Luther held this view. We can at least respect his honesty

Monday, August 18, 2008

Equality and the Canaanite woman

Sermon: Sunday August 17th, 2008
the Rev. Matt Kennedy

Listen to the audio

A woman pleads for Jesus' help. Jesus ignores her. Egged on by his disciples, he tries to send her away. When finally confronted, he justifies his refusal to help by appealing to his ethnic superiority. He calls the woman a dog. He helps her in the end but only after she's been utterly humiliated.

That's what many people see in Matthew 15:21-28, Jesus acting like the classic bigot. I spent time this week reading sermons based on this text just to get a sense for what others were saying. Here's part of a sermon I found online:

“Jesus as well as the disciples are blinded by their cultural biases. As members of the chosen race they believe they are truly chosen of God and that everyone else is excluded...How does this meeting with the Canaanite woman affect Jesus? His faith journey as a human is much like our own journey. He meets a new idea in the form of the woman's request with silence. How do we meet God? How do we meet those experiences that threaten our worldview? We tend to be silent and hope they will go away which is exactly what Jesus does in his silence.”

Its not the woman who meets God in Jesus it is Jesus who meets God in the woman and Jesus “grows” through the encounter. The woman is, says the preacher...

“the catalyst for change in Jesus. He finally begins to understand his mission is broader than the religious and cultural biases and prejudices of his time and he chooses to respond out of this new insight by doing what the woman asks. This metoina for the human Jesus continues and comes to fruition at the end of Matthew's gospel when Jesus tells the disciples to, " Go and baptize all nations,"

For those of you in the New Beginner's and First Light bible studies, this is a great example of eisogesis, reading something into the text that's not there. The natural human inclination when reading the bible is to read through the lens of our cultural, political or philosophical assumptions and in America, in the west in general, the ideal of equality is especially dear. Perceived prejudice is met with harsh social condemnation. Last week some Spanish Olympic athletes were filmed mocking Asian people by pulling the edges of their eyes back. An avalanche of outrage descended upon them and rightly so. It became international incident involving heads of state. The contemporary aversion to prejudice is so strong that it's difficult not to project it onto scripture and see Jesus' words as an example of bigotry.

Before I go on let me say that the equality ideal is good and it is biblical. All human beings are created in God's image and though we're fallen, that image remains. There is especially in the fellowship of believers, those for whom Jesus died, those whom he's gathered in the Church, to be no bigotry or prejudice. One of the ongoing scandals within the western church is the fact that there are white churches and black churches. No church should be known by its predominant race. In Galatians 3:28, Paul sets the standard, “There's neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” Race, class and sex distinctions do not divide us and do not make us unequal in God's sight. We are all equally sinners, and all equally declared righteous through faith in God's Son. We are One in Christ.

But while the ideal of equality is good in so far as it is consistent with God's Word if you read this text with the cultural aversion to prejudice ringing in your ears you could easily miss the point and mis-hear Jesus.

The bible upholds the truth that all humans are equal but it makes a crucial distinction. I'll bet that when I said that the ideal of equality is consistent with scripture some said to themselves, well, what about those passages where Jews are called God's chosen people and told to separate from gentiles or where slaves are told to obey their masters or wives are told to submit to their husbands. How can I say that the bible does not teach inequality? Inequalities are shot through the text?

There are three ways to address to that question I think. And after I've given them we'll have a good foundation laid for digging into the text verse by verse next week.

The first way to come at the question is to recognize that all human relationships are grounded in God's own Trinitarian nature. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God and yet there is only One God. Let me ask you and maybe you can remember from Sunday school or adult ed, is the Son equal in his divine nature with the Father? Yes. They're coequal. They share the same divine nature. The Son and the Father are coequal and co-eternal.

But how does the Son relate to the Father in scripture? Does Jesus demand his equality? No. Turn to Philippians 2:5, Jesus, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.” Jesus though equal to God in his divine nature takes on the role of a servant.

The Son submitted to and became obedient to his Father. Though equal he takes, willingly, an unequal role. In the same way the scriptures teach that there is an important distinction in human relationships between equality and role. We're created equal but called to live in relationships marked by inequality. Most of us have bosses. My bishop is my boss. If he tells me what to do, I have to do it. Am I less human than my bishop? No. Not at all but I willingly submit to him.

When you read the bible, you see many examples of equal people being called to unequal roles, some just and some unjust. Jesus, the King and sovereign ruler of the cosmos, is called to submit to the unjust authority of the Sanhedrin and Pilate and he does. Slaves are called to submit to the unjust rule of their masters (1st Peter 2:18-21) not because slavery is good, unrepentant slave traders, Paul tells us in 1st Timothy 1:10, will not enter the kingdom of heaven, but because by their Christlike behavior, they bear witness to Christ; they do what Jesus did.

But believers are not only called to submit to unjust authorities, we're also called to submit in every day relationships. Children are called to obey their parents (Eph 6:1-4), wives are called to submit to husbands (Eph 5:22-33) and all are to submit to our bosses and those who hold governing power. These roles do not mean that one person is less than another any more than the Son's servanthood means that he is less than the Father or less than his mama whom he obeyed or the rulers of his day to whom he submitted.

Why am I belaboring this point? Second: the distinction between equality of nature and inequality of role is precisely the distinction we need to have in our heads when we turn to the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in scripture and especially in Matthew 15 between Jesus and the Canaanite woman.

Out of all peoples God chose Abraham and his descents. God's decision does not mean that they were ethnically or morally superior to Gentiles. Who knows what Abraham's family was doing before God chose Abraham? Joshua tells us that they worshiped idols (24:2). They were sinners just like the rest of us. God chose one sinner to begin his work of redemption for all sinners. Once he chose Abraham and his descendants did they suddenly become better than other people? No. Just crack open the Old Testament and you'll see that they were just as messed up as the gentiles.

But if that's so, why did God choose them and why do we read that God wanted them to remain distinct and separate from everyone else? Before entering Palestine, God tells them in Deuteronomy 7 not to relate with the other people:

“Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons” (7:3) He tells his people not to make treaties or take on their customs or adopt their ways.

Why? Racism? No. Are they less human? No.

“for” God says, “they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods.(7:4)

The Lord had a special role for the descendants of Abraham to fulfill. They were called to be a window back into Eden, a picture of what restored fellowship with God is like and other nations, looking on, were supposed to be jealous and want that for themselves. “The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.”(7:6) To fulfill that role they had to maintain pure worship and holy conformity to God's law and that meant keeping themselves to some extent separate.

They were to conform themselves to God and his law so that his presence with them would be a light to the gentiles, leading them to want the same thing, to want fellowship with God. That's the role God chose for them. They're equal but they have a special place.

Was it just for God to offer redemption to all humanity through one chosen group? No. In terms of justice, all groups deserve eternal punishment. For God to decide to redeem at all is an act of infinite grace and mercy and love. Who are we, by nature objects of wrath as Paul says in Ephesians 2, to question the means by which God chooses to offer mercy. If you're shipwrecked and drowning and out of an assortment of life-jackets someone throws you a red one instead of a blue one or a white one are you going to complain that it's not fair? Are you going to protest? No, just take the life-jacket.

And that leads third and finally to a point that people often overlook, the lifejacket” has always been available to everyone, not just the blood descendants of Abraham. Anyone could become a full member of Abraham's family regardless of ethnicity, gender, or race by turning from their idols, commiting to the God of Abraham, trusting his promises and following his law. Rahab the prostitute, Ruth the Moabitess, Namaan the Assyrian, all accepted the offer and became descendants of Abraham, inheritors of his blessing. And many born into Abraham's blood family forfeited that inheritance by turning to idols. The distinction between Jew and Gentile was never an exclusively ethnic distinction. It was and is a distinction of faith.

That's what the prophecy in Isaiah 56 is all about, “foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant-these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.(Isaiah 56:6-7).

The offer that God made to the world through the descendant's Abraham is the same offer he still makes through The Descendant of Abraham, Jesus Christ. Repent, turn away from sin, and come to me. I will forgive you and make you one of my people and I will give you joy in my house of prayer.

end (continued next Sunday)